When it comes to the history of comic book characters, very few can compare to the history of Marvel’s Mystique. In her time she has:
- Given birth to Nightcrawler
- Influenced Rogue
- Gone to bed with Sabretooth
- Helped create the mutant-hating Graydon Creed
- Changed the course of human and mutant history
- Caused a drastic change to the Ms. Marvel character
Mystique, through her versatility as a character, has allowed writers to do practically anything they need to tell a good story. Which makes sense given that her primary mutant power is shapeshifting. Mystique can be the beginning, middle, and end of any story arc because, well, she can be any character.
For as many times as Mystique has changed her looks, she has also changed her allegiances. When first introduced to her, she was an enemy of Ms. Marvel. Over the years, however, she transformed into an enemy of the X-Men, an anti-hero who aligned herself with the X-Men, a mutant rights activist, and a freedom fighter.
I’d argue that Mystique didn’t appear on many radars until Rebecca Romijn brought her to life in the original X-Men movie. If you’re unfamiliar with her portrayal, you need to only know a few things. First, this version of the character introduced the now-famous “scale” look. That is, this version did away with her traditional white costume in favor of full–body paint and scales. Second, the movie version was, for the most part, silent…a trait uncommon with the character. Third, she was the favorite of Ian McKellen’s Magneto. And fourth, as a result of her popularity, she reappeared, albeit with a different actor playing her, in the prequel movies 10 years later.
Mystique is an anomaly in comic books. I mean, for decades she had all the tools to become one of the best X-Men villains in history, but couldn’t quite do it. I won’t say the reason for this lies solely on her convoluted history, but it definitely had something to do with it.
But before I get into that…
Mystique first appeared in Ms. Marvel #16, back in 1978. She was created by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum and was meant to be a big player in Ms. Marvel’s world.
Little is actually known about her past. This means that her age, where she came from, and exactly what she looks like when not blue isn’t entirely understood. This is mostly due to her mutant ability. It’s believed that it actually slows down her aging. What we do know is that she learned to use her power at a very young age. Once a capable shapeshifter, Mystique did everything in her power to better serve herself and the mutant population.
It’s widely known that Mystique has been romantically involved with many characters in Marvel Comics. In one instance, she was linked to Victor Creed. If the name sounds familiar to you, it should. Victor Creed is, of course, the sworn enemy of Wolverine, Sabretooth.
The two came together after they were assigned to kill a scientist in Berlin. During this time Mystique was masquerading as Leni Zauber and because of this, Victor didn’t know that he was working with Mystique. As a result of them working so closely, the two became lovers.
If you think about it, becoming a lover with one of the most feral characters in comics is a dangerous thing. Mystique knew this. To avoid the fallout of her leaving him, she faked her own death. Shortly after leaving him, she learned that she was pregnant with his child. Nine months later she gave birth to the mutant-hating Graydon Creed.
Shortly after this, Mystique, now parading as Raven Darkholme, married Baron Christian Wagner. All was well for the two until she learned that he was incapable of having children. Desperate to have a child, she used her powers to coerce just about every man in the village to sleep with her. Eventually, she came across the mutant Azazel and the two conceived a child.
Due to his inability to have children, Wagner became suspicious of her activities. But it wasn’t only he that was suspicious. His father, another powerful man, ordered that she have a blood test to verify whether or not the baby was his. Of course, it wasn’t and after nine months, Mystique gave birth to Kurt Wagner.
During the delivery, Mystique lost control of her powers and showed the world that she was a shapeshifter. To make matters worse, when Kurt was born his abnormalities weren’t easily hidden. While many mutants appearances aren’t affected by mutation, Kurt’s was. He was born with blazing eyes, blue fur, and a prehensile tail.
Once the humans who lived in the village caught wind of this, they chased them from their home. Fearing what would happen to her son should they be caught, she placed him in a basket and sent him floating down the river.
Yes, down the river.
Mystique has mothered some of the most famous children in X-Men history. However, for all the children that she’s given birth to, it’s the one that she didn’t give birth to who’s most interesting.
Mystique is the adoptive mother of Rogue. You may or may not agree with me but Rogue is one of the most important members of the X-Men in the last 30 years.
During Rogue’s adolescent years, Mystique learns from Destiny (I’ll get to her) that Rogue will eventually be harmed by Ms. Marvel. As just about any mother would do, Mystique begins to take action to prevent this from happening. What she doesn’t realize, however, was that Rogue overheard her conversation with Destiny. Before could do anything, Rogue left to confront Ms. Marvel.
Once in San Francisco, Rogue, does, in fact, confront Ms. Marvel.
For any who don’t know, Rogue is a mutant whose ability allows her to absorb the powers and memories of any she touches. There is, however, a caveat. If she holds the touch for too long, she runs the risk of permanently damaging her enemy. In the case of Ms. Marvel, this is exactly what happened. Because of Rogue’s touch, Ms. Marvel had her memories and powers wiped. Worse yet, the powers and memories were permanently transferred to Rogue.
It’s important that you know something.
Even though children are a great driver of a story, they aren’t the reason the history of Marvel’s Mystique is so compelling. Not by a long shot.
The history of Marvel’s Mystique is so compelling because she wants the same things that you and I want…the right to live without prejudice.
Not only is Mystique is a mutant, but she’s a mutant who lives in the X-Men Universe. This means that she has been the subject of discrimination, prejudice, hate, and violence her entire life. Worse yet, her treatment hasn’t gotten better with time.
Remember, when she gave birth to Nightcrawler, the prejudice against mutants was so strong that she feared what would happen to both him and her.
Fear is a powerful motivator and one that is commonly used to push someone into an uncomfortable situation. It has been the cause of some of the greatest breakthroughs in our history. Unfortunately, we as people fear what we don’t understand. And when this happens, it causes people to act in an unpredictable and violent manner. Point in case, the way mutants are treated.
Mystique’s son, Graydon Creed is a perfect example of this. He is the offspring of two mutants, yet was born a human. Although by all accounts he should be the most understanding human in the universe, he isn’t. Instead, he 1) grew up with a hatred towards mutants and 2) created and led the Friends of Humanity.
For reference, the Friends of Humanity is a group of people who oppose mutant civil rights. The group willingly commits acts of violence against mutants and mutant sympathizers. In addition, they also use the actions of more violent mutants like, ironically Sabretooth to rally others to their cause.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because a lot of what happens in X-Men comics mirrors real-world problems. You see it every day. Both minorities and majorities are acted against in violent manners because of who they are. Rather than taking the time to understand one another, society (both comic books and real-world) closes off a conversation in favor of hate and fear.
- Wars are started because of it.
- People starve because of it.
- Beautiful landscapes are destroyed because of it.
As convoluted as it is at times, X-Men, at its heart, is a metaphor for the world in which we live. It is a social commentary without actually looking like one. And at its core are great characters like Mystique.
But the history of Marvel’s Mystique is more than how she has been treated in comics. The history of Marvel’s Mystique is also about how she’s treated outside of comic books.
Let me explain.
Mystique, for a long time, was one of the only openly bisexual characters in mainstream comics. She and her assumed lover, Destiny carried on a relationship during the days where this sort of relationship was frowned upon. Sadly, any notion of it moving forward was nixed before it had the chance to happen. This meant that as much as the writers wanted to, the two could not conceive a baby.
If it sounds strange to you that two female characters could conceive a baby, you’re probably not alone. But remember, this is comics and anything can happen in comics.
At the time, the writers at Marvel pitched the idea of Mystique taking on the form of a man. As a man, she and Destiny were suppose to come together and conceive a baby. The baby, just so you know, was to become Nightcrawler. Yes, the same Nightcrawler she sent packing down the river.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t meant to be as Marvel never green-lit it the idea.
Their relationship came at a time when the Comics Code Authority still existed. If you’re unaware, the Comics Code Authority was a governing body that dictated what could and couldn’t happen in comic books. A relationship between two women (one in the shape of a man) that saw the conception of a mutant baby would definitely have been something they would’ve opposed.
What’s interesting about this is that it’s never revealed who actually stopped the story from happening … Marvel or the Comics Code Authority. Perhaps even Marvel thought the idea was too much?
What’s strange about this story isn’t the idea of the story. What’s strange about it is that the idea came at a time when comic book publishers were pushing the boundary of what was acceptable in comics.
By the time the 1980s rolled around, the Silver Age of Comics was coming to an end. Gone were the fairytale stories and in their place stood darker, grittier, sexual and more violent stories. Writers like Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Chris Claremont began creating stories like The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, and The Dark Phoenix Saga.
The 1980s was a great time for comic books. Not only was it the time I grew up in, but it was also a time where any and all ideas for stories were approved by the editors. Readers wanted darker stories and editors wanted to give it to them…which is why the Mystique and Destiny story doesn’t make sense.
If editors wanted to push the boundaries and the Comic Code Authority was a few years away from collapsing, why didn’t a harmless story like this make it to print? The honest answer is that I really don’t know. I think that it should’ve made it to print. Imagine how much different her character would be if it did.
Without it, where does that leave Mystique?
The easy answer is the same place she was before. In the hearts and minds of all who follow her. And if you think about it, it’s a perfectly good place to be.
This history of Marvel’s Mystique is a convoluted mess that nobody will ever be able to untangle. Up until the X-Men movies she was a name only reserved for comic book readers. After the movies, her popularity exploded…and rightfully so.
Mystique is unique in that she’s neither good or bad or right or wrong. While it’s common to cheer against most villains, it’s difficult to cheer against her. She is the underdog who you want to see win. Mystique isn’t perfect and shouldn’t need to be.
She is the reminder that adversity can be overcome.
If you had asked me 20 years ago whether or not Mystique would be a name worth mentioning, I’d have said no. However, I would’ve also been wrong. Through dedication, questionable storytelling and blockbuster movie after blockbuster movie, Mystique has cemented herself in popular culture…a place that she will likely stay for a very long time.
As I always do with these in–depth character looks, I’m going to leave you with this. Comic books are the gateway to understanding the world just a little bit better.
So, may they be around forever.